This Panda arrived in 2003 to a rapturous reception, Fiat's expertise in producing small cars demonstrated by the diminutive, but smartly styled sub-supermini. Replaced in 2012 it might have been on sale for nine years, but it always looked fresh, and remained very competitive until a slightly more rounded, bigger car replaced it. Small outside, the slab sides, large glasshouse and tall roof make for a surprisingly spacious small car, and though the hard-wearing interior is fairly utilitarian it's refreshingly honest for being so. Inexpensive to buy and run, it makes a lot of sense as an urban run-about.
The Panda was offered with 1.1- and 1.2-litre petrol engines, as well, latterly, with a 1.3-litre MultiJet turbodiesel unit and 1.4-litre 100hp petrol engine in the sporting 100HP model. You'll struggle to find anything but the 1.1- and 1.2-litre petrol choices in Ireland though, the smaller engine delivering 54hp and the 1.2-litre 60hp. There's so little in it performance wise the 1.1-litre is as good a choice as any, the one second the 1.2-litre model gains in acceleration to 100km/h academic when it takes 14 seconds, as the 1.1 is just as quick with a tail-wind.
Unsurprisingly, either costs cents to run, with both sipping fuel, the 1.1 achieving 5.7 litres/100km on the official combined consumption cycle, the 1.2 managing 5.5 litres/100km. During its nine-year production run the Panda saw a number of revisions. Anti-lock brakes became standard in 2005; a CD player became standard in 2007; and the engines also saw improvements in economy and emissions in 2009. The 1.1's consumption reduced to 4.9 litres/100km, the 1.2 matching that - both being badged 'ECO' to denote their improved fuel sipping status.
Those new engines signalled a minor refresh of the model line-up, with equipment improved across the Active, Dynamic and Eleganza trim levels. Given its budget status those trim levels are specified accordingly, Active coming with the basics like electric front windows and central locking, the Dynamic model adding remote central locking and some body colour to the bumpers, Eleganza topping the range with air conditioning, alloy wheels and roof bars.
It's difficult to argue against a 1.1 Active Eco model, as it comes with everything you could possibly want - save for air conditioning. While the 1.1-litre engine might not be a fireball, it's eager and economical. Space is good inside, and while the boot is small it's a decent shape. It'll cost you next to nothing to run, and there's plentiful choice in the classifieds.
Fiat Panda 1.1 ECO Active
Engines: 1,108cc four-cylinder petrol
Maximum speed: 149km/h
0-100km/h: 15.0 seconds
Fuel consumption: 4.9 litres/100km
Euro NCAP: ****
• Smart looks
• Fun character
• Surprisingly spacious
• Pretty basic
• Refinement at speed
• Hard plastics inside
Small but spacious, slow, but eager, economical and surprisingly enjoyable to drive, the Panda is a useful run-around in the city. Its charm wears off a bit on longer journeys, but if you want honest urban transport then the Panda is not without merit. Plentiful choice means you can be picky too, and drive a hard bargain.